“Woman, behold thy son! . . . Behold thy mother!”

by Rev. Terry Minchow-Proffitt @ St. Martin United Church of Christ in High Ridge

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John 19:25b-27
Today is our Third Sunday of Lent. We’re already about halfway to Easter! Each Sunday we’re trying to take a close look at each of Jesus’ Seven Last Words, the last things Jesus said as he was crucified. Last Sunday, we explored Jesus’ statement to the penitent thief: ”Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today, we’re back at the same cross, but it’s a bit of a different scene, told by a different gospel. But we’re still looking up at the same Jesus. This time, however, it’s pretty obvious he’s looking down on us. Now, we’ve all had experiences of being looked down on, as in being put down or dismissed. Jesus is not being patronizing. He’s looking down in love from where he hangs. He’s looking down through his suffering. He’s, you might say, beholding us. He looks down and sees three Mary’s there: his mother, his aunt, and his disciple Mary Magdalene. They’re all looking up, or maybe looking down. Who knows? The scene is beyond hard.

Jesus also sees his good friend, probably John himself, who’s known as the “beloved disciple,” standing beside his mom. He says to his mother: “Woman, behold your son.” Then he says to the Beloved Disciple: “Behold your mother.” It’s all too much, really.

So let’s give ourselves a little space, back up a tad and think for a minute about that little word “behold.” Anytime we use the prefix “be” we’re ramping things up. It’s an intensifier, kinda like salt. It brings out the flavor. So a word like “longing” becomes “belonging.” A word like “love” becomes “beloved.” A little word like “got” becomes . . . you got it—“begotten”! And we all know how the Bible is full of “begetting,” right? Whenever we place “be” on such verbs there’s serious value added. We bring the sense of “on all sides, or all about.” A sense of “thoroughly, or completely.” Think of the prefix “be” as a steroid. The juice.

So the simple verb “hold” is turned into “behold.” He says to Mary, his mother, “Behold your son.” This is intense. Don’t just look, but see: take him in fully with all that you are. See him for who he truly is, through God’s eyes.

Now, a question: See whom? Do you believe Jesus is directing Mary to look at the Beloved Disciple beside her? Or is Jesus directing her to look at her very son dying above her? Or is it both?

I guess we’ll never fully know, will we? But in this moment, I cannot imagine Mary, as a mother, seeing anything or anyone without Jesus in her eyes. It’s as if, in this great losing, she sees everything through Jesus. She is all eyes and ears. So my money is on both. I believe Jesus wants Mary to see more than simply her real and unimaginable loss.

Jesus beholds Mary. Mary, he says, behold your son. Above her, her very son is dying. Beside her, Jesus’ Beloved Disciple is living. And he’s being beheld by Jesus too. Then Jesus says to him, “Behold your mother.” See her in her love and loss. See her as mine. Now see her as yours. Take her in fully. She’s your mother now. For what’s mine is yours. I lay down my life, all that I love and hold most dear, for you.

Then, in the final verse, we read: “And from that hour the disciple took her in to his home.”

It all starts with allowing God to hold us, to behold us. We are beholden to God for his amazing grace and love. When we let this in, that’s the first conversion, the “about-face” that we often say “saves” us. We’re loving God with all that we are.

Then we realize that to experience this love most fully, we are being asked to hold, behold, and to be beholden to one another. Ask yourself, if you can, How does Christ see me? How does Christ take me in with such love? Then ask, “Who is God calling me to behold more fully, to take in to my heart and home?” Who is God calling me to see as my brother, sister, mother, or father? This double take, this about-face we do with each other, is our second great conversion: we’re loving our neighbor as ourselves.

God’s love runs deeper than blood, Jesus says. We are held and beheld by the One who will not let us go; let us hold and behold one another with the same love. Let us open up more fully and take one another in to where we’re most at home.

Beset, befuddled, bedraggled, bereft? Yes. Begat, beloved, bedazzled, beheld? Even more. Belong. Amen.